'Let's talk about the 'Real Housewives,' " says Kathy Griffin, conspiratorially. And for the rest of her shamelessly titled "Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony," which opened its very brief run on Friday, she does just that -- dissecting every character on that TV franchise with the sarcasm that's made her a star, winning her two Emmys along the way.
She's no longer on the "D-List," as her own TV series would have it. But as she cuts down one celebrity after another, it's clear that she still has the gleeful, outsider's perspective that's endeared her to legions of fans.
Nevertheless, she seemed nervous on opening night. She frequently glanced at a crib sheet and jotted down notes. Early in the evening, she even dragged out her "fairy godmother," financial guru Suze Ormon, for an onstage hug.
Dressed in extemely tight spandex pants and a T-shirt with the word "Kath-eter" spelled out in sequins, the flame-haired comic delivered a generous two-hour show full of take-downs. There were plenty of jibes about such figures as Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol -- whose tendency to gain weight elicited the quip, "She's the white Precious."
She also skewered Kelsey Grammer and Charlie Sheen, as well as some celebrity mishaps -- like Mel Gibson's plea bargain and Lindsay Lohan's fleeing her home because of a nonexistent tsunami -- that had happened only hours before the show.
Griffin is the perfect comedian for these celebrity-obsessed times. Don't look for any insights into the human condition -- her humor is proudly superficial. But there's no one better at making fun of such topics as the reality TV shows of which she's inordinately fond.
Talking about the train wreck that was "Being Bobby Brown," she declared it "the greatest show in the history of television." She also rhapsodizes about TLC's "My Strange Addiction": "It's a comedy but doesn't know it."
She is, not surprisingly, even more uncensored live. "I could never say that on TV," she admitted after one outrageous joke. "Even on Bravo, which is, like, a fake channel."
Griffin will probably not get that coveted Tony Award for this irreverent one-woman show. But she's certainly giving her audiences exactly what they want.
As just about any well-known actress who has made the mistake of going to Starbucks without makeup can attest, fame can be a cruel mistress. Her most tenaciously censorious handmaiden is surely Kathy Griffin, the flame-haired, torch-tongued stand-up comedian who has claimed the hypocrisies, peculiarities, misjudged plastic surgeries and occasional court appearances of semi-, quasi- and actual celebrities as her particular turf.
It is freakishly fertile territory these days, needless to say. Ms. Griffin merely has to mention the name Charlie Sheen in “Kathy Griffin Wants a Tony,” her new show at the Belasco Theater through Saturday, for her adulatory fans — mostly gay men, and women who like the same things gay men like — to erupt into ecstasies of laughter and applause. The jokes are almost incidental.
Ms. Griffin has become a star in her own right, thanks to her club and arena appearances as well as “My Life on the D List,” a “reality” television show (Ms. Griffin’s fondness for air quotes is contagious) chronicling her existence as a low-wattage Hollywood luminary and a high-energy Hollywood gadfly with a sharp bite. Her series and many comedy specials appeared in constant rotation on Bravo, at least until the appalling plague of “Real Housewives” swamped the channel’s schedule.
Ms. Griffin’s appeal is in her ability to combine insider access to the world of the famous (or at least the pseudo-famous) and her willingness to be frank about its inhabitants, who mostly live behind a screen of public handlers that even relentless tabloids and the kids from TMZ cannot easily penetrate. Ms. Griffin is nobly willing to mortgage any future returns on her celebrity to bring us the spoils of gossip she has harvested from life inside the bubble. (There are, apparently, limits beyond which even she will not go. She only hints at dark stories about Sarah Palin that she heard from her peculiar frolic with Levi Johnston on her show.)
Tiny and trim, Ms. Griffin strides to the microphone at center stage wearing black tights, boots and a skinny T-shirt. Placating the gods of comedy, she begins with a little self-deprecation on the subject of this form-flattering but tacky ensemble. (She looks as if she were ready to audition for a “Cats” road company.)
She warms up with a few funny cracks related to her debut appearance on Broadway: an obligatory “Spider-Man” joke or two, and the disclaimer that the only chorus boys on view tonight will be in the audience. “There was no prayer circle before this show,” she adds, striking her trademark note of brash irreligiousness.
But Ms. Griffin is soon surfing the deep waters of celebrity folly, leaping from topic to topic with the dizzy excitement of a bitchy girlfriend so delighted by the tidbit of gossip she’s just recalled that she doesn’t quite finish telling you the last one she started. No sooner has Ms. Griffin begun a tale about a close encounter with Whitney Houston than she interrupts it to tease us with a reference to the sex advice she received from Gloria Steinem. That will have to wait, because it’s time for a digression about the similarities between Ms. Palin and Mr. Sheen. (“They both can’t stay off TV,” for one thing.)
Did you know that Lindsay Lohan fled her beachside house in fear of the tsunami? And — OMG! — do we want to hear about the seriously loony behavior of Uma Thurman at the Quentin Tarantino roast? Do we ever. But what’s this? A desperate cry from the crowd: “Hasselbeck! Hasselbeck!” Before we can go any further the latest installment in Ms. Griffin’s continuing feud with Elisabeth Hasselbeck from “The View” must be aired.
The effect occasionally brings on pop-culture whiplash — wait, how did we get on to the subject of the obscure TV series “My Strange Addiction”? And what the hell is that show, anyway? At times Ms. Griffin loses the thread of her spiraling thoughts and has to be reminded by someone in the audience where she was going.
By the end of the show I was convinced that Ms. Griffin was suffering from a mild but highly profitable form of attention deficit disorder, and I was beginning to think it was contagious. But her highly unsystematic approach to stand-up is what gives this show its feeling of spontaneity and intimacy.
And her stamina is remarkable. With breath control to match the most skilled coloratura soprano, Ms. Griffin holds forth at a relentless clip for two straight hours without a break, taking just the occasional sip from a glass of water. And like an opera diva of yesteryear, she never strays from center stage, as if to conserve energy better used to keep the flow of cutting commentary from running dry for even a moment.
Ms. Griffin’s lacerating take on current affairs is definitely not for the pop-culturally hidebound. If you don’t laugh at her description of Ms. Steinem as “the NeNe of the feminist movement,” perhaps the show is not for you. (NeNe is one of the “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” Or so I’m told.)
But for fans Ms. Griffin scratches a persistent itch in the psyche: the need to purge through ridicule the embarrassment of an unnatural interest in the doings of famous people, talented or not. Neither the obsessive interest nor the urge to purge is particularly healthy, of course, but at least you won’t land in rehab anytime soon.